Key Bridge Eyed for Architectural Lighting

Photo by Brian Kapur/The Current
Proposed architectural lighting is intended to better highlight the 1923 bridge’s iconic archways.
Proposed architectural lighting is intended to better highlight the 1923 bridge’s iconic archways.

By Alexa Perlmutter

Current Correspondent

The Key Bridge may receive decorative lighting on its underside to highlight its distinctive arches, according to the D.C. Department of Transportation, which will hold a public meeting Sept. 27 to discuss options, answer questions and receive community feedback.

The historic bridge between Georgetown and Rosslyn, Va., is in the midst of various upgrades, and the agency said the new proposal is separate from work to install LED fixtures in the bridge’s streetlights.

The Transportation Department studied the architectural lighting concept in 2014, and its work at the time resulted in the current proposal.

“We were currently rehabbing the bridge, so while we were preparing for that, we did a quick bridge facade lighting study that looked at some options,” agency planner Ted Van Houten told The Current. “If we wanted to light the bridge, how would we do that?”

The 2014 study concluded that “uplighting the bridge face along with the highlighting of arches from within will provide the most dramatic effect.” Federal money for the lighting project, however, didn’t come through until 2016, and now the agency is ready to kick off the project publicly at the upcoming meeting.

The lighting plans are now in the environmental assessment process, during which the Transportation Department is getting the plans to 30 percent of the design and preliminary engineering. Meanwhile, it is also going through Section 106 review under the National Historic Preservation Act in order to ensure that the historic architecture of the bridge — completed in 1923 — is maintained and protected. It’s too soon to have a timeline on when new lighting could be installed, officials said.

Van Houten also acknowledged three possible sticking points: The bridge goes over the Whitehurst Freeway; there is marine traffic on the Potomac River underneath; and the air over the river is the approach for planes landing at Reagan National Airport. “We’re working with the [Federal Aviation Administration] and our own safety team. Anything we do for the lighting has to be safe: not blinding boaters or drivers, and not causing a disruption for air pilots,” he said.

Joe Gibbons, chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E (Georgetown, Burleith), told The Current that it’s too early in the planning process for him or ANC 2E to form an opinion on the proposed lighting. 

“I don’t know placement, Kelvin, those types of details,” he said.  “Yes, we need more effective lighting down there, but we have to be aware with what we’re doing and how it fits with the historic preservation and the rest of the community.”

The Transportation Department will hold its public meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. Sept. 27 at the Georgetown Library. In advance of that meeting, representatives of ANC 2E and the Georgetown Business Improvement District will meet with the agency, but Will Handsfield of the BID is optimistic.

“We’re not ahead of the community on this one — people really do believe it needs to be lit,” he said in an interview. “It doesn’t really affect any function. We’re being subtle, envisioning subtlety and just improving the bridge.”

The idea of lighting the bridge was proposed in the BID’s Georgetown 2028 plan, created in 2013. Handsfield told The Current that the BID did extensive research while formulating its plan. “We had 83 public meetings and came up with about 75 action items, one of which was studying lighting the Key Bridge with architectural lighting,” Handsfield said.